Last night Paris-based US expatriate pianist Kirk Lightsey asked his audience at the Sound Lounge when exactly he had last been in Australia. “I don’t know why it’s been so long,” he said. “I LOVE this place!”
Lightsey is currently in Australia on a rare national jazz tour with the wonderful Bernie McGann (tenor saxophone), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Andrew Dickeson (drums). The Australian jazz community hasn’t always been known for its cross-border alliances, so the Artistic Director of the Sydney Improvised Music Association, Peter Rechniewski, must be congratulated on bringing this tour to fruition.
It’s to be expected that such a blended band will stick to the classics; in Lightsey’s case his standards repertoire contains a lot of Bill Evans tunes, but they are always music to my ears. On this occasion I must confess I felt the collective playing got much stronger towards the end of the night, with an extended treatment of Skylark and then a rocking Blue in Green to finish.
I’m not sure exactly how old Lightsey is, but I hope to have half his energy if and when I reach his age. He was up and down at the piano like a kid who’s swallowed too many sweets. Bernie’s undercooked facial expressions are always entertaining; how someone can play an ear-bending solo then shrug off our applause is beyond me. And with an all-too-rare clear line of sight from my seat to the keyboard, I enjoyed watching Lightsey’s fingers flash up and down the new Yamaha. His fingertips almost turn up at times, or so it seems, when he is playing at his most delicate; and then like one of those old Citroens his hands rise higher on the keyboard to power up some unexpected chord voicings or a flight of melodic fancy.
Along with the success of recent tours by Sonny Rollins and by Brad Mehldau and his trio, I am excited to see the resurgence of visits to Australian shores by improvising artists who are the real deal.